April 14, 2015 – What happens when the worlds of a vegan yoga teacher, a Santa Cruz derby girl, a classically-trained French bread baker, and an Italian restaurant owner collide? No, this is not the next Food Network reality show, but the story behind Ben Lomond Baking Company—a brand new Italian bakery set to open within the next two weeks in the San Lorenzo Valley.
The little mountain town of Ben Lomond welcomed the Italian restaurant Casa Nostra in 2013, when the three owners revived and revamped the storied Ciao Bella space. It has gained a loyal following in the Valley ever since, so when the antique store across the street became vacant, owners Raffaele Cristallo, Pasquale Bianco, and Mario Ibarra jumped at the chance to bring an authentic pastry counterpart to their customers. In a few short months the improvements to the semi-circular shaped building have been astounding. Now cheerful curtains and bright fresh paint await the first customers to the sunny window-filled space.
Aside from the expected lineup of biscotti, focaccia, gelato, and the popular Casa Nostra house-baked breads and croissants, the new business will feature pasticcini, very small, bite-sized pastries that Raffaele explains are very common in Italy. “Saturday and Sunday every father in every family will go out and get a dozen or so. It is something new for Americans, but we are going to focus on a lot of pasticcini items. They are fresh patisserie items, usually filled with some kind of cream, like cannoli, and are all small in size…you can keep going because of their small size,” he says.
They will also introduce salatini, the savory bites equally popular in Italy, and panzerotti, the small, deep-fried calzone that hails from Puglia, which also happens to be where Raffaele’s hometown is. And no bakery is complete without coffee, LaVazza in this case. In fact, “They are sponsoring an espresso machine for us, because I have been a customer of theirs for a long time, about 15 years. I grew up on that coffee, the best of Italy. It is hard for me to move away from that,” says Cristallo.
Tessie Murphy is the baker crafting these exciting delicacies. She most recently comes from New Orleans, where she worked at the much-lauded Breads on Oak. The husband and wife team behind the NOLA hotspot, a master French bread baker and vegan yoga teacher, respectively, became her “second family.” She says: “I’ve baked my whole life, but they provided so much training.” Her professional background combines a very unexpected mix of traditional French technique paired with alternative, vegan and gluten free baking. And while she has been more that busy gearing up for the fast approaching launch of the Ben Lomond Baking Company, she also finds time to be a Santa Cruz Derby girl, with the game name Peach Clobber. “I’m the official baker for the roller derby team, and have always been the designated bringer of desserts,” she adds.
Lucky for us Ben Lomond-ers, she’ll be bringing those desserts to us really soon, by the end of the month at the latest. Cristallo says that they plan to, “just open the door and see who trickles in, which is probably going to turn into a grand opening because everyone is talking about this. There is not a bakery in the Valley, which is the reason why we are opening this for everyone.”
Amber Turpin is a food writer and baker who homesteads in Ben Lomond.